Phillips to face court Tuesday
PARK COUNTY – Come Tuesday, Lee Phillips could be sentenced to as many years in prison as the young man he killed got to live.
Lee Phillips, 41, of Hartsel is scheduled to appear for sentencing at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Park County Courthouse. Phillips pleaded guilty to felony charges of vehicular homicide and vehicular assault July 8, avoiding a jury trial that was scheduled to begin the same day.
Prosecutors filed the charges against Phillips after a Jan. 15 accident on Highway 9 just north of Fairplay. Phillips’ southbound car veered off the right side of the road, hit a post and careened broadside into an oncoming car. Charles Graham, 20, of Breckenridge, was driving the other car and suffered multiple serious injuries. The passenger, 19-year-old Marcus Shirley, of Farmer’s Korner, was killed.
Three hours after the accident, Phillips blew a .198 breath-alcohol content. He was charged with driving under the influence for the fourth time since 1995 (he was also charged with an alcohol-related disorderly conduct in 2000). The DUI charge in this incident was dropped as part of the plea agreement.
“On this side, you realize that when somebody commits a crime and hurst someone, there’s so many ways to get around the system,” said Jennifer Shirley, sister of Marcus Shirley. “His family, his wife and lawyer are obviously going to make a huge plea that he’s a father and a husband before the judge sentences him. But what kind of father is wasted by six in the evening? He was going home to his family, and he was wasted – why back this guy?”
Shirley’s family members are expected to make statements before the judge announces the sentence.
Dealing with the aftermath of the accident has been difficult for the Shirley and Graham families. Shirley was a popular Summit High School graduate. A standing-room-only crowd of hundreds attended his funeral. Graham suffered numerous serious injuries, and while he’s made significant recovery and returned to activities such as fishing, more strenuous passions such as skateboarding will have to wait. Graham will miss his first few days of college classes in Bozeman, Mont. to attend Phillips’ sentencing.
“We’re ready to have the judge make a decision,” Jennifer Shirley said. “We’ll be able to begin to move away from this and think about other things.”
Debra Graham, Charles’ mother, added, “I just hope the judge does the right thing.”
The vehicular homicide charge carries a possible sentence of four to 12 years in prison, a fine and a mandatory five-year parole. Aggravating circumstances would allow the judge to sentence Phillips to up to 24 years on the charge, and mitigating circumstances could reduce it to as few as two years. The vehicular assault charge carries a possible sentence of two to six years, a fine and a mandatory three-year parole. Extenuating circumstances would allow the judge leeway of two to 12 years.
The judge will base his decision, in part, on a pre-sentence report prepared by the Park County probation department. The report, typical in court sentencing, summarizes the facts of the case, as well as the defendant’s criminal and social history. The plea agreement also gives Eleventh Judicial District Court Judge Kenneth Plotz the discretion to make the sentences consecutive or concurrent.
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